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A WGVU initiative in partnership with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation using on-air programs and community events to explore issues of inclusion and equity.

"Cowboys & Indians" party invite earns bar a city reprimand


UPDATE: GRCRC issued a statement of thanks to Flamingo Lounge for apologizing and canceling the event. 

The Grand Rapids Community Relations Commission issued a press release encouraging respect and cultural sensitivity during costume events following an incident in which a West Side bar promoted a party themed Cowboys and Indians. For WGVU’s Mutually Inclusive Mariano Avila has the story.

“Nobody wants to get a press release calling them out for their behavior.”

That’s Tommy Allen chair of the Community Relations Commission. He says the commission first learned of Flamingo Lounge’s pub crawl event on Facebook and decided to respond.

“It was very disconcerting to us when we realized that their theme was for people to dress up as cowboys and Indians. And we felt that was incredibly insensitive, considering the sovereign, tribal nations of our region.”

The post went up earlier this week and immediately came under fire from dozens of people who accused the bar of furthering stereotypes and narratives that dehumanize Native people. Allen says the commission used this as a teachable moment for the community during a timely season.

“And so, as we’re looking at Halloween coming up, it’s a really good time to have this conversation—ahead of Halloween. Because it would be very easy to respond to it afterward. But, because this is happening this weekend in our community, we had an opportunity to share why it might be offensive and why it’s a good idea to change it.”

Flamingo posted several apologies and most eventually posted a cancelation of the event altogether. For its part, the commissions press release lists several resources, including the Grand Rapids Public Museum, where people can go learn more about Native American people in our region.

Mariano Avila is WGVU's inclusion reporter. He has made a career of bringing voices from the margins to those who need to hear them. Over the course of his career, Mariano has written for major papers in English and Spanish, published in magazines, worked in broadcast, and produced short films, commercials, and nonprofit campaigns. He also briefly served at a foreign consulate, organized for international human rights efforts and has done considerable work connecting marginalized people to religious, educational, and nonprofit institutions through the power of story.
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